Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 10, 2015

And the War is Over, by Ismail Marahimin, translated by John H. McGlynn #BookReview

And the War is OverThis short novel of 192 pages came to my attention because I had read the short stories of Lily Yulianti Farid and discovered the Lontar Foundation, which seeks to enhance the profile of Indonesian writing by fostering its translation into English.  There are not many titles to choose from at Amazon, which is, regrettably, the only affordable way to access this collection, but the title of this one appealed because I know so little about the impact of the Pacific War on Indonesia.

The story takes place in a small Sumatran village called Taratakbuluh, where the Japanese have established a prisoner-of-war camp for Dutch internees.   Although there is some of the violence that we have come to expect when reading about Japanese POW camps, Lieutenant Osé runs the camp without excessive brutality, so much so that Sergeant Kiguchi – who suspects looming trouble – feels frustrated that he’s not allowed to use his usual strategies to get information.  Marahimin alludes to this with restraint, as he does in other instances of violence.

In the past his swiftness of manner had caused the death of six or seven detainees.  A fair number of Dutch internees, forced labourers and civilians as well had suffered broken bones or other physical damage at his hands.  His style had done little to raise him in rank but he didn’t mind.  An enemy was an enemy and should be treated as such, even if he had surrendered.  If the enemy won, Kiguchi would be treated in the same manner.  As for the romusha, well, they were a colonised class of people, little better than slaves. (Chapter 1).

The romusha were Indonesians forced to work for the Japanese, as distinct from those left to continue their traditional way of life as best they could under the Occupation.   The romusha were despised as collaborators by their own people and as unpaid labour by the Japanese.  Kliwon is a sort of gopher with considerable freedom of movement but he has been displaced from his own people and no one trusts him, while Satiyah has been assigned to Lieutenant Osé as a house servant and ‘comfort woman’.  She was widowed by the Japanese treatment of her schoolteacher husband but paradoxically she marvels that under the Japanese regime, she is now treated by Osé with more respect than she ever was under the Dutch – because Osé wants her only to perform the tea ceremony and not for anything else.  Her previous master, Osé’s friend, had raped her.

The story begins just as the war is drawing to a close.  The bombing of Japanese cities has reached Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been destroyed, and even tucked away in this remote outpost in the jungle, the Japanese are aware that the war is almost certainly lost.  Lieutenant Osé idles away while he waits for orders, musing over his wife’s enthusiasm for him to join up and her eventual desertion.  He wonders about the safety of his children, who are now in the care of his parents, where the bombing is.  Eventually he is called to a briefing, but the orders are so vague he still doesn’t know what to do.

So there is uncertainty in the camp and some of the detainees take the opportunity to plan an escape.  This causes dissension because those who don’t wish to join the escape attempt know that Kiguchi will enjoy the opportunity to inflict brutal punishment.

Meanwhile in the town, the war has caused significant change to long held traditional practice.  Unwelcome people of different regional identity such as the Minangkabau and the Javanese have displaced old certainties, and traditional marriage plans are awry (though the right of the patriarch to decide who his daughter will marry is still firmly in place.)

The story centres around the state of flux which impacts on all these relationships as the war ends.  What was most interesting for me as an Australian reader was the way the author explored the impact of war in remote areas.  In some ways, the war is far away and seems to have little effect on everyday life, and yet in other ways, the presence of the POW camp and the movement of peoples disrupts long-standing traditions and relationships in ways that can never be restored.

Author: Ismail Marahimin
Title And the War is Over (Dan perang pun Usai)
Translated from the Indonesian by John H. McGlynn
Publisher: Book Cyclone, an imprint of Typhoon Media, from the print edition published by the Lontar Foundation.
ASIN: B005DFDQLW
Personal copy.


Responses

  1. Sounds like an interesting take on the Dutch side of the war and post war years which I’ve not read for this part of world thanks for sharing lisa

    • Let’s hope that the Frankfurt Book Fair shines a spotlight on Indonesian writing and that the momentum lasts.

      • Shoukd see some more books usually after the country is spotlight at london or frankfurt expected more Mexican books after this year at lbf

        • I’d like to see Australian publishers take up more Indonesian titles, and from other parts of SE Asia too. But there has to be a market for it. Interest in Chinese writing is increasing, so maybe there will be a spin-off from that.

          • That be good especially as some of pick aussies publisher starting to open uk offices

  2. […] the course of its sweep across Indonesian history, and so does Ismail Marahimin’s And the War is Over.  But I know nothing from Singapore, the Philippines, or New Guinea.  Perhaps Southeast Asian […]


Categories

%d bloggers like this: